[Fantasia Festival 2019 Review] The Deeper You Dig

Screened at Fantasia Festival 2019:

An Adams Family Film, the credits tells us right from the get go. It’s a truly family affair, with mom, dad and daughter working overtime to write, direct, score, produce, edit and act in their own production. And on that note, I gotta give The Deeper You Dig props. The family is obviously multi-talented and it’s this kind of ingenuity I love seeing in the indie scene. As a family production, it’s quite an achievement and I truly hope they continue making movies. That said, this one didn’t completely work for me.

Ice cold blue is the color of the day, from the scenery to the sky to the color filters. It’s winter in the wooded mountains where The Deeper You Dig takes place. Kurt (John Adams) spends his time trying to clean up and fix a dilapidated house with the intention of flipping it. The house is vaguely creepy in the way that abandoned houses usually are and the old timey radio playing a song that feels straight out of Insidious doesn’t help. Just down the way, a mother named Ivy (Toby Poser) and her daughter named Echo (Zelda Adams) drive home from school, discussing Ivy’s job as a psychic who rakes her patrons over the coals money-wise before finally giving them what they want. They have the kind of relationship where Echo can say the c-word and not get in trouble.

After a hard day’s work, Kurt goes to a bar where he drinks one too many drinks and on the way home is distracted by some deer and runs over something. That “something” turns out to be Echo, who was doing some late night sledding. Panicked, Kurt brings Echo’s body to his dilapidated house and smothers her when he discovers she’s still barely alive.

What follows is, I think, a year in the life of Kurt and Ivy as they wrestle with that night in different ways. But the barrier between living and dead has been opened and Kurt might have gotten more than he bargained for when the ghost of Echo starts screwing with him.

The first thing I noticed about The Deeper You Dig was the striking setting. The snowy mountains and the way it was framed is so coldly beautiful, particularly when you consider the small talent involved. The cold desolation just poured from the screen. The first act is appropriately moody, even though the obvious budget limitations were a problem. When it hits the second act, weird things start to happen to Kurt, like his music switching to an old timey tune that Echo listened to. The house creeks. A dead and gutted wolf appears in the hallway. Meanwhile, Ivy keeps hearing brief whispers from her daughter calling her.

Deeper You Dig, The 4.jpg

When Echo materializes, the girl who used to tell her mom “fuck homework” becomes an appropriately punky ghost. But she never feels dangerous. More like an annoying poltergeist than anything. And the narrative doesn’t seem to know what to do with her or Kurt’s paranoid grief or Ivy’s heartbreak. For the most part, the core group of actors do an admirable job. It’s the script that kind of sells the story short. There’s a lot of interesting ideas and themes going on, but they don’t come together. And in a movie that feels particularly grounded, the trips to the avant-garde magical realm feel completely out of place.

The script has all of the ghostly haunting/semi-possession beats but never follows through. The movie continues at barely a simmer and never really builds into what it obviously wants to. There’s a slight edge of possession to the story, where Echo might be possessing Kurt…or he could be going insane. But instead of really laying into that theme, it just uses it as a kind of dressing and goes onto the next kooky idea.

That said, it’s an admirable attempt, particularly as a family production. A tighter script with a focus on the internalized horror inherent in the accidental murder of a teenager could have made this an intense feature.